Why keys can be a massive security risk
Mechanical keys are considered a cheap and reliable way to secure, however, if not managed properly; they can be a big security risk.
Electronic key cabinets allow us to reduce this risk by providing control over what keys can be accessed, and by who.
So what do electronic key cabinets do?
Electronic key cabinets allow an authorised user to check in and check out keys.
This eliminates paper sign in books and ensures that keys are issued and returned in a controlled manner.
The system can implement time limits on how long someone can have a key for, before it starts sending alerts to the system administrator.
The system ensures that people can only remove keys that they are entitled to.
How electronic key cabinets work
Usually, the electronic key cabinet is integrated with the access control system. There are four main components:
- Access Control System – The software and hardware used to manage access-controlled doors. This is also, where we control who can access which keys.
- Key Cabinet Software – This software enables us to define which keys are in which position in the key cabinet. It also acts as an interface between the access control system and the key cabinet.
- Key Cabinet – An electronic cupboard with a number of key positions that securely hold the keys.
- Intelligent Key Fobs – These devices attach to the keys using split rings. Each fob is programmed with a number that tells the key cabinet which key is in which position. This also ensures that keys cannot be returned to a different position.
Issuing a Key
In practice, once a person has been granted access to one or more keys in the access control system, they walk up to the key cabinet and scan their access control card on the card reader.
The door to the key cabinet is then opened and there is a red or green light next to each key.
A red light means that the person does not have access to the key, a green light means that they do.
They press a release button next to the intelligent key fob and remove the key, before shutting the door.
The key cabinet then sends an event to the access control system to say that the person has removed the key.
Returning a Key
To return a key, the person first presents their access control badge to the card reader attached to the key cabinet.
They then open the door.
They push the fob into the key position that the key was removed from, the system then checks to ensure that the fob is in the correct position before locking it in place.
The key cabinet then sends an event to the access control system to say that the person has returned the key.
The user closes the door and walks off.
Pros of electronic key cabinets
- Eliminates user error – Someone can only remove keys that they are authorised to take. The user cannot put a key back in the wrong position.
- Provides effective control of keys – Reducing the risk of unauthorised key duplication, or someone removing keys that they are not allowed to have.
- Prevents keys leaving a building or area – When integrated with access control, we can block someone leaving if they still have keys out.
- A single system to manage access (to doors and keys) – This reduces the risk of someone leaving and having their card blocked in access control, but not in the key cabinet system.
Cons of electronic key cabinets
- Can be expensive to manage a large number of keys – This is usually offset by the impact on an organisation of important keys being lost or stolen, or by reducing expensive manual administration in managing keys.
- Integration relies on network connectivity between key cabinets and the access control system to operate correctly.
- Requires a lot of wall space to install key cabinets when managing large numbers of keys. I have seen installations where specific key rooms have been set up to house these devices.
So when should I use an electronic key cabinet?
In an environment, where large numbers of keys need to be managed properly, or in areas where there is a significant impact on the organisation if someone can gain access to a specific key.
In my experience, I have seen these units used a lot in secure facilities, such as prisons or hospitals, through to controlling access to forklifts in warehouses.
Where an audit trail of which keys have been used is required for auditing purposes. A paper-based system can be subject to fraud, a properly configured electronic solution can provide an audit trail that cannot be tampered with or questioned.
Key cabinets can also manage health and safety risks by ensuring that people cannot gain access to equipment or vehicles that they are not trained in, or competent to use.
It may also be possible to eliminate keys altogether, but this is not always practical.
If you need more help in deciding if key cabinets are right for your project, or need help writing a specification, please contact me, I would be happy to help!